The Sad Truth is That Facebook Ads Are Not Magical

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Imagine a platform where targeting customers based on life events and their exact locations is the norm. Showing ads to your competitor’s audiences as they chop and change between devices is a seamless affair. And it’s possible to pay just $0.01 for a video view and $0.40 for each new click.

It’s every entrepreneur's dream. It also happens to be one of the world’s most popular marketing channels: Facebook ads.

With $5.8 billion dollars in revenues reported in the latest Q4 2015 report, the social giant is nothing short of crushing it. It's enjoyed 51 percent revenue growth from the previous year -- a clear indication that brands rapidly are shifting their advertising dollars away from traditional above-the-lines and straight into Facebook's pockets.

It's easy to see why businesses are turning to Facebook ads:

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  • Its 1.6 billion user base is among the world's largest.
  • It’s one of the most cost-effective advertising platforms.
  • Organic reach's steady decline means marketers must accept Facebook is a pay-to-play platform.

Related: 7 Ways That Facebook Ads Can Help Your Business

There are two sides to every story.

As businesses flock to experience their share of purported 600 percent ROIs and seemingly limitless growth, many quickly have discovered that all is not what seems to be. For every success story, there are another four that bear messages of warning. Frankly, some businesses are less than impressed with the results.

So, do Facebook ads actually work? The answer: it depends.

You see, the truth about Facebook ads is that people on Facebook don’t really care about you or your products. They’re there to check out photos of their nieces and nephews, browse entertaining content and connect with friends and peers. Their head space is so far removed from shopping that ads often don't register. Compare this to Pinterest, whose users actively seek out items they desire and enter the app primed for conversion.

Facebook users have a particular aversion to feeling as if they're being sold an idea or product. And while this isn’t anything new for marketers, the real difference here is that users now control the content with which they'll interact. Facebook's algorithms mean users' past behaviors effectively self-select the ads they're shown in the future.

How can you find success on a platform whose audience doesn't care you showed up at the party? First, you have to make them care.

Related: How to Use Facebook Groups for Authentic Marketing

First impressions matter.

Don't release your hard sell into the newsfeed or target people who've never interacted with you before. Instead, approach Facebook as a place for generating leads. Your sole aim is to identify and segment your audience. You can't expect someone who's never heard of your company or service to convert immediately on that first contact.

Lead people to a value-based blog post, provide free video tutorials, invite them to attend webinars and offer downloads of useful templates or cheat sheets. If you’re playing in the e-commerce space, you might also use a video to build awareness. Competitions and tripwire marketing, which bundles a quality offer in a low-cost/low-risk package, both work well to segment your new leads.

Related: Make Users Feel Like One-in-a-Million at Every Stage of the Funnel

From there, retarget your initial leads based on the content with which they chose to interact. Guide them through to complete the sale. The dollars start coming in at this stage, but recognize that most people take an average of 7 to 30 days before deciding to purchase. Even in the digital age, it's important to exercise some patience with your campaigns.

This approach is called funneling. You use Facebook ads to fill the top of your sales funnel with lots of leads. A series of ads or content drives potential customers further down, all the way through to a purchase.

Mind the bottom line.

Whether you’ve already tried Facebook ads or are considering giving it a shot, remember that suceeding here depends largely on your ability to build affinity, trust and awareness with your potential buyers. Look elsewhere for the quick sell. Instead, focus on developing a funnel that will generate leads to convert later in the process. Keep your audience at the forefront of everything you do. If ever you lose sight of that concept, dissect the user experience to ask yourself, “Would this ad and approach work on me if I saw it in my newsfeed?”